Staying sharp

Natural astaxanthin keeps body and mind in shape

The human body is a complex system. For every change in its physiological state, there is a related change on a mental or emotional level, conscious or unconscious, and vice versa. In other words, brain and body are interconnected. Ingredients that link the mental and the physical – called nootropics – boost cognitive functions in such a way that performance also improves.

Roughly translated, nootropic comes from the Greek for “to shape the mind” and, for the last 20 years, cognitive health products have been more or less focused on aging baby boomers. Today’s nootropics, however, are increasingly targeted at millennials, a group of people who are constantly looking to increase the number of productive hours in their day, whether it’s for work, school or sports. While the natural algal antioxidant astaxanthin may be used primarily to support physical performance, it is also a potential nootropic because it alleviates fatigue and contributes to better concentration, vision and brain health.

Body and mind are one

For athletes, nootropics may help overcome the mental barriers that prevent them from realising their full potential. Focus is what gets an athlete through the difficult last few sets of a workout or the final minutes of a long game. Additionally, sportspeople know that mental acuity helps them avoid injuries. Supplementing the diet with a natural nootropic like astaxanthin can help to support mental clarity and focus1, and fight fatigue – as has been shown in a double-blind placebo-controlled study.2 In the first study of its kind, participants were given 12 mg of AstaReal® natural astaxanthin or a placebo for 8 weeks.

The study was designed to induce the fatigue and stresses of daily life and athletic training. To challenge their mental capacity, the participants were subjected to a number of timed calculations that required intense concentration. The physical component was performed using a bicycle ergometer. At the end of the study period, Visual Analogue Scale analysis showed that astaxanthin significantly reduced the perceived symptoms of mental and physical fatigue compared with the placebo. Results included improvements in clarity of thinking, concentration, motivation and mood. With regard to the mental calculations, an increase in errors observed in the placebo group during the second half of the test was almost eliminated in the astaxanthin group.

Against this backdrop, it stands to reason that e-athletes could also benefit from astaxanthin. Computer strategy games are extremely complex because in addition to the motor skills required, they demand a high degree of tactical understanding. Indeed, scientists at the German Sports University have found that e-sports athletes are exposed to physical strains similar to those of “normal” athletes.3 The amount of cortisol produced by the body of a gamer is about the same as that of a race-car driver. This is combined with a high pulse rate – sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, the level reached during a very fast run. It can therefore be seen that e-sports are just as demanding as most other types of sports. Thus, an e-sports athlete’s diet should be similar to that of other competitive athletes, and include additional nutrients such as astaxanthin, which modulates blood pressure and works as an anti-inflammatory.

Too much blue light

The growing popularity of e-sports also illustrates another of modern society’s major issues. Use of multiple digital devices means that we are exposing our eyes to more blue light than ever before. Research indicates that this overexposure may be disrupting our sleep cycles and consequently contributing to fatigue, hypertension and insulin resistance. Too much light in the 380-500 nm range has been implicated in decreased visual acuity – known as computer vision syndrome – possibly linked to oxidative stress. In the eyes, light reacts with oxygen, generating free radicals (ROS) that are harmful to the local cells and the optic nerve. A pan-European survey carried out by YouGov in 2016 found that eight out of ten European millennials experience digital device related eye fatigue, with the average worker spending more than 45 hours in front of a computer screen every week.4

As blue light reduces contrast, it contributes to eye fatigue. This makes it more difficult for the ciliary muscles to focus the eye. With time, the eye lens becomes increasingly rigid, making it even harder for the ciliary muscles to adjust our vision for near focus. However, astaxanthin accumulates in the front and the back of the eye, providing all-round protection: it neutralises ROS, reduces inflammation and improves capillary blood flow – not only in the eyes, but also in the brain.

Keeping the brain in tune

As a nootropic supplement, astaxanthin is known to cross the blood-brain barrier and confer protection to brain cells. The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative damage. Thus, it is hardly surprising that ROS play a role in many neurological diseases.5 A healthy human body’s antioxidant defence system keeps the generation of ROS under control. However, these defences get weaker under high levels of physical or mental strain and as we age. Therefore, supplementation with dietary antioxidants such as astaxanthin is important. Owing to its unique molecular structure, natural astaxanthin is more effective than other antioxidants in neutralising ROS: This is particularly important considering the large number of mitochondria and the amount of energy used by the brain.

The energy production process in the “power plants” of the cells generates huge amounts of ROS and can cause a redox imbalance, which fosters mitochondrial dysfunction and ultimately leads to neurodegenerative conditions. Many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, are associated with mitochondrial damage. Natural astaxanthin works against lipid peroxidation in the mitochondria and is, in this respect, 550 times more effective than vitamin E.6 It also decreases oxidation of red blood cells, which is linked to the prevention of dementia.7 Randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that supplementation with natural astaxanthin (12 mg/daily) for three months improves memory, mental agility and multitasking in senior subjects complaining of age-related forgetfulness.8

Not all natural astaxanthin is created equal

As discussed above, natural astaxanthin is a promising nootropic. And the more we learn about the relationship between brain and body, the more exciting the prospects for this ingredient seem to be. In fact, Innova Market Insights found that brain health was the fastest growing health proposition within the antioxidant category, with an average annual growth rate of 48.6% between 2012 and 2016.9 In addition, according to Innova Market Insights 28% of all new supplement launches tracked with astaxanthin in 2018 featured a brain/mood health claim. Increasing consumption of antioxidants in the food and supplements segments is also expected to fuel the astaxanthin market, with countries such as Germany, the UK and Italy being the major contributors to this growth.10 As more people seek out antioxidant products to support their wellness, natural astaxanthin is becoming more and more appealing to nutraceutical manufacturers who are looking to expand product lines. Thus, it’s not surprising that between 2014 and 2018, there was a 18% increase in new product launches tracked with “astaxanthin” in Europe.11

Quality is paramount when it comes to natural astaxanthin, however. As it is sourced from algae, the ingredient’s quality is affected by the environment in which these microorganisms are cultivated. Unfortunately, as the market is growing, low-quality products are appearing. Therefore, when choosing an astaxanthin supplier, companies should pay attention to their production methods, the stability and purity of their products, the astaxanthin content in the biomass and their quality certifications.

AstaReal pioneered the development of natural astaxanthin as a nutritional ingredient and, in the early 1990s, became the first company in the world to commercially produce natural astaxanthin from microalgae. Today, AstaReal® is the most studied brand of natural astaxanthin worldwide, with a portfolio of over 60 human clinical trials conducted among more than 1,800 participants. The cultivation process the company has in place features the tightest controls in the industry. Unlike other companies who also source astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis, AstaReal eschewed outdoor production methods as they are susceptible to contamination. The pioneer cultivates and processes its algae indoors under controlled conditions in specially designed photobioreactors. This results in a safe product with at least 5% astaxanthin content in the biomass and without any impurities.

For more information:


  1. Hongo et al.: Daily Fatigue-reducing Effect of Astaxanthin. Jpn Pharmacol Ther. 2017 Jan;45:61-72.
  2. Hongo et al.: Randomized controlled trial of the anti-fatigue effects of astaxanthin on mental and physical loads simulating daily life. Journal of Clinical Therapeutics & Medicines. 2016. 32 (7): 577-91.
  3. (accessed 20th August 2019)\
  4. YouGov European Eye Fatigue Report 2016
  5. Patel: Targeting Oxidative Stress in Central Nervous System Disorders. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2016 Sep;37(9):768-778.
  6. Nishida et al.: Quenching activities of common hydrophilic and lipophilic antioxidants against singlet oxygen using chemiluminescence detection system. Carotenoid Science. 2007. 11(6): 16-20.
  7. Nakagawa et al.: Antioxidant effect of astaxanthin on phospholipid peroxidation in human erythrocytes. British J. of Nutr 2011; 105: 1563-1571.
  8. Katagiri et al., Effects of astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis extract on cognitive function: a randomised, double-blind, placebo controlled study. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2012;51(2):102-7.
  9. Innova Market Insights
  10. Market Research Future: Astaxanthin Market Research Report – Forecast to 2023. May 2019.
  11. Innova Market Insights

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